The Owen Warlassies route to an outright Western Highlands Conference volleyball title took a sidestep on September 27, when they dropped a 3-1 match to rival Polk County. They’d beaten the Wolverines earlier in the month and were hoping to pick up a second win against Polk (8-7, 4-1) to gain an inside track on a conference title.
Instead the next day they were shaking off the loss as they worked through a series of drills under head coach Kim Clark.
“The girls were really disappointed last night – we were all really disappointed,” said Clark. “We struggled to get some offense going and they hurt us with their offense.”
Clark’s job last Friday following the Thursday night loss was not only to remedy problems, but also to turn Owen’s focus toward Tuesday’s match with Mountain Heritage. “Today I really wanted to do some drills that would work on things that we needed to work on – some passing, some blocking. But I also wanted to do something that would get them laughing and having fun together.”
“I didn’t want to come out and run them to death. I wanted them to know they’re good – we just have to get ready for Mountain Heritage,” said Clark.
Junior Camillia Harrin, a setter for Owen (9-8, 4-1), had a personal game plan for practice before she even stepped on the court. “When I came in today, I planned on practicing things that were off last night like blocking, defense, and serve-receive. And that’s what we did,” said Harrin.
As the practice progressed, the laughs started to pick up along with the squeak of sneakers on the floor and the rapid-fire smack of volleyballs slamming off the hardwood. The disappointment was dissipating as the energy returned to Owen.
Five of the players – Chesney Gardner, Kathryn Wilkos, Shelby Ballard, LeeAnn Taylor, and Kaitlin Morris have been playing together since middle school.
“We’ve all played together since sixth grade. There’s a bunch of talent on the team, but we would be nothing without each other,” said Ballard. “We just play so well as a team because we’ve played with each other forever.”
The cohesion of those five emanate out to the rest of the roster, and it’s a large reason for the success of this year’s team, and the dramatic improvement of the squad over the last three years. In 2016 the team won just two games. That number leapt to eight last year, and the Warlassies have already posted nine wins in 2018.
“I would say we don’t have the all-stars that other teams have. We have a group of great girls,” said Clark. “We’re really lucky to have Chesney – she can hit anything. Kathryn can dig anything. Shelby is a really big blocker on that power side. And she also can hit really well.”
The coach is aware of the wear-and-tear that comes with a long volleyball season and tailors her team’s workouts accordingly. “I used to have them do 10 pancakes at the beginning of every practice, and I stopped that this year, just because I don’t want to injure anyone in practice. They’re all a little beat up right now,” said Clark.
Clark also did some preseason work that will keep the Warlassies primed as they play their final six matches of the regular season. Each NCHSAA team can play a total of 23 regular season games. Clark planned for the maximum number of games but front-loaded the schedule so that the team would play more of their games early in the season and still have energy for a late-season playoff run.
Harrin sums it up best when describing the intangibles of the Owen lineup that, when coupled with more energy than their opponents may possess, have the team ready for a surge they hope will propel them deep into the 2A playoffs.
“We play as a team out there, and we spend a lot of quality time together so we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. We have a lot of trust on our team,” said Harrin.